Do you realize that when you give a speech or presentation, you're a body speaking?
You may not think of presentation skills that way, yet it's true. Your voice is literally embodied, for one thing. And for another, presentations are certainly about you speaking when physically present, not about information being passively delivered—emailing your PowerPoint deck would achieve that. (To enrich your relationship with listeners and attain true speaking success, download our cheat sheet, "5 Ways to Captivate an Audience.")
So, your body speaking. Now think about what that means in terms of ownership of your own body, and using it to compelling advantage when you speak. To get your mind in this place is like holding a ticket for a rocketship ride to powerful and memorable presentations.
Let's look specifically at why your body—and therefore the body language you use—is your key to successful speaking performances.
Why You're a Body Speaking
Everything you are and everything you give an audience as speaker starts and ends with your body. How would it not be so? Like an actor making an entrance, what your audience first sees and responds to is your physical presence. How you hold yourself and move—before you utter a syllable—gives listeners important clues concerning how you feel about yourself and what you're about to say.
You either gather the power in the room or you don't. Your energy encompasses, enfolds, and entices your listeners, or fails to do so. You radiate credibility and steadfastness or you appear ordinary and unmemorable. Whatever signals you send through your body language are the clues your audience will pick up on, in one direction or the other. It's one important reason you need to understand the self-image you're broadcasting as a speaker.
Whatever the result, it becomes a cycle. If it's a positive cycle, energy flows outward to the audience and is returned to you. If negative, the energy is either too weak to reach listeners, or it remains fractured so neither speaker or audience can gather it usefully.
The laws of energy throughout the universe are immutable, and can't be changed by physicists, astronauts, philosophers sitting under apple trees, or public speakers. Your body is energy visible to your audience, which is the principle reason why body language in public speaking is so powerful.
Discussed below are 3 ways to translate these principles into practical steps for more energized and powerful body language when speaking. (For a comprehensive guide to public speaking success, consider my book How to Give a Speech: Easy-to-Learn Skills for More Successful and Profitable Presentations & Speeches.)
Using Energy to Communicate
When you speak in public, you must take ownership not only of your own body, but the space in which you speak. When a great actor walks on stage, everyone in the audience feels that actor's power, and we immediately think in terms of charisma. But there's little magic here. That actor is merely a step ahead of us: he or she has visited the performance space the night before (if the venue is a new one for the upcoming performance), walking the stage and becoming familiar with what that space has to offer.
In theatrical performances, energy is a palpable thing and depends upon the performer in the space. So the actor needs to understand where the energy flows in that room or auditorium, where the sound resonates and where it falls dead; the places on the stage floor that create power when the actor stands there, and where he or she figurately disappears. Now we have the first step of our three for using body language energy for speeches and presentations:
Step 1: Entrance and Position. Decide both where and how you should enter, and where you should stand. When you take your initial position, can you feel power radiating from you throughout your performance space, or is it easily dissipated? Practice it: enter, move to your spot, stand there. Can you sense the power gathering toward you, or is it moving someplace else in the room? Now practice the second step:
Step 2: Circles of Energy. In my acting training at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art in London, we studied a concept known as the Three Circles. These circles had to do with the energy an actor gives off (in our case, a speaker) in order to successfully reach and influence other people. "First Circle" was self-directed energy: the kind involved in contemplating an idea only to ourself. It's a low form of energy that can't really reach past us. "Second Circle" is a still-intimate form of energy, but enough to reach a person standing next to us in a conversation.
"Third Circle" is the public speaking circle, in which we must emit enough energy to enfold all the listeners in our audience. It is a considerable output of energy, because each person in our audience has to feel as though we're talking directly to him or her, no matter how far away they are. Do you see how the sheer output of energy, and the corresponding body language on your part, will make you a powerful speaker—and how using the other two circles of energy will fail to do so? Now add the third step:
Step 3: Project Your Voice Appropriately. From British voice coach Patsy Rodenburg comes a vocal exercise that will teach you proper projection of your voice. "Proper" because the vocal energy you give out must cross the physical distance between you and your audience, while "projecting" power, warmth, and immediacy. (To maintain good vocal habits and protect your voice, see my article, "Public Speaking: 15 Easy Ways to Keep Your Voice Healthy.")
1. Stand centered.
2. Put a hand about 9" in front of your face. Look at the hand and breathe to it. "Touch" and reach that hand with your breath.
3. Now put your hand down and focus on a point across the room. Breathe to that point. The breath has changed, expanded—you have to take more breath to reach that point.
4. Now extend yourself further. Imagine the whole room. Breathe to fill it. Notice the change of breath.
5. Finally, look out of a window and focus on a distant point, breathing to reach it. The greater the distance, the greater the breath needed to do so. (Patsy Rodenburg, The Actor Speaks, 56.) Once you have the proper distance, consider these 4 essential vocal techniques for dynamic speaking.
Through these three steps, you are now working consciously with body language and energy. From the audience's point of view, but also your own, you are demonstrating, broadcasting, living a more powerful presence through the energy of body language. Welcome to more powerful public speaking.
Key takeaways from this blog:
- When you deliver a presentation, you are a body speaking.
- Everything you are and give to an audience begins with your body.
- Your body in performance is one of the key elements of a successful presentation.
- You must learn how to use energy to speak powerfully.
- Key ideas include entrance and position, energy emitted, and vocal projection.